Women’s voluntarism, Conservative politics and representations of womanhood
Historians have had a tendency to oppose what is seen as Conservatism's positive appeal that is its historic capacity to construct political identities and assimilate diverse constituencies of support with the Conservative Party's more negative anti-socialist strategy. This chapter shows that both appeals were part and parcel of the same overall Conservative response to the political challenges of the interwar period. It examines how the deliberate choice of middlebrow rhetoric as well as the language of citizenship enabled Conservative women to construct a cross-class language of democracy. Tapping into the Conservative Party's self-identified anti-intellectualism was another strategy for women to appropriate a specific place for themselves within the Party. The Women's Voluntary Services (WVS), set up in 1938 by Lady Reading at the request of the Home Office, had over a million volunteers at the height of the war and was crucial in supporting the war effort.
Historians and political scientists have deemed the twentieth century 'the Conservative Century', owing to the electoral and cultural dominance of the Conservative Party in Britain. This book traces the relationship among women, gender and the Conservative Party from the 1880s to the present, and thereby seeks to fill that gap. A gender inclusive approach allows for a more nuanced understanding of political machinations, power and the unprecedented popularity of both conservatism and unionism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The suffragette Christabel Pankhurst, was regarded as a charismatic, radical figure, who was the co-leader of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), a notorious suffrage organization campaigning for the parliamentary vote for women in Edwardian Britain. In 1928 Lady Iveagh, Vice-Chairman of the National Union of Conservative Associations (NUCA), claimed that one million women were members of the Conservative Party. The book focuses on how the Primrose League re-made itself for its female members between 1914 and 1932. It shows that the Conservative Party leadership and male candidates were keen to present themselves as the champions of home interests, playing up their family-man credentials against their rowdy electoral culture of Labour. The book also examines inquires how the deliberate choice of middlebrow rhetoric as well as the language of citizenship enabled Conservative women to construct a cross-class language of democracy. It explores British conservatism, highlighting the history of the Tory Party as part of the study of women and their sectional interest in 'the politics of gender'.
Historians and political scientists have deemed the twentieth century 'the Conservative Century', owing to the electoral and cultural dominance of the Conservative Party in Britain. One aspect that has been under-explored, however, is the party's mobilisation of women and its positioning on gender issues. Theresa May's achievement is one more powerful example of the ascendancy of women to pinnacle leadership positions and, arguably, the pattern is more pronounced on the Right and among conservative, nationalist and inward-looking and exclusionist parties worldwide than on the Left. In the interwar period, the Conservative Party offered training and examinations for women organisers in the party, who were full-time paid officials. David Thackeray reflects on new research on women in the party, their activities, organisation and representation, in the first decade after enfranchisement.